EppsNet Archive: Music

Teaching Computer Science: Collected Thoughts

10 Jan 2015 /

If you recognize the person on this next slide, please raise your hand. Don’t yell out the name, just raise your hand.

Derek Jeter

About two-thirds of you recognize Derek Jeter. I thought everyone would recognize him, but still a clear majority.

I’m not a Yankees fan or a Derek Jeter fan particularly but the Captain and I are on the same page on this topic. I have to admit I was pretty competitive as a student. I didn’t want anyone to do better than me and I especially didn’t want anyone to do better than me because they worked harder than me.

This Jeter quote reminded me of a quote from another notable sports figure . . .

Bob Knight

This is Bob Knight, college basketball coach, most notably at the University of Indiana. He won 902 games, three NCAA championships, and he coached the 1984 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.

Notice that he says “everyone” and “no one.” He doesn’t say some people don’t want to come to practice. There’s a universal aspiration to accomplish great results without a corresponding level of effort. I recognize that in myself, definitely. As far as I can tell, this approach rarely if ever works, even for people we think of as prodigies.

Mozart used to say that anyone who thought composing music came easily to him was very much mistaken. While all the other kids were playing kickball, Mozart was in the house practicing his music lessons. In case you’re thinking that kickball wasn’t even a game at that time, you may be right. The point is that if there was kickball, Mozart wouldn’t have been playing it because he was practicing his music lessons.

One more on this topic . . .

Michelangelo's David

This is a quote from Michelangelo. Nothing great seems to happen without a lot of practice.

Once again, please raise your hand if you recognize the person on this next slide.

Anton Chekhov

He looks Russian.

Yes, he is Russian.

Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Mendeleev? Pushkin? Boris Pasternak?

No . . . he’s known as an author of plays and short stories.

[A student sitting next to a smart but quiet young man from Russia points to the Russian boy and says, “He knows.”]

Who is it? Chekhov.

Right . . . this is Anton Chekhov. He wasn’t a programmer but his advice is relevant to many different endeavors.

Don’t overcomplicate things. A good heuristic – which is a fancy way of saying “rule of thumb” – is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Method A could work, Method B could work — which one should we try first? Try the simplest one first.

Note that the heuristic doesn’t say to do the simplest thing. If the simplest thing couldn’t possibly work, don’t do it. Do the simplest thing that might actually work.

One final slide. I don’t think anyone will know these people so I’m not asking for a show of hands.

2 days in a closet

I saw an article last week about a man and a woman who were “trapped” in a janitor’s closet at the Daytona State College Marine and Environmental Science Center for two days. They got themselves in the closet last Sunday and finally on Tuesday, the gentleman on the right got the idea to call 911. Why that idea took two days to incubate is unclear. Police showed up to let them out and found out the closet was not locked. They could have opened the door themselves.

Maybe the lock was meth’d up, like the woman. “Meth’d” up, get it?

Are they students at Daytona State College? The article doesn’t say. Do any of you have Daytona State College on your college wish list? If so, you may want to take it off. Or just keep it as a safety school in case Harvard and the Sorbonne don’t come through for you.

What can we learn from this story? I don’t want to say “don’t make assumptions” but don’t make unwarranted assumptions. Don’t make assumptions about things that you can easily verify. If you’re in a closet, don’t assume the door is locked. Try it and see. A lot of uncertainty can be dispelled by trying things out.

Assumptions can hurt you as a programmer. You might be stuck because you’re assuming some condition is true that isn’t true. Or you’re assuming that some condition can never be true when it really can be true. Don’t make unwarranted assumptions.

I couldn’t help noticing that a lot more people recognized Derek Jeter than recognized Anton Chekhov. If you want to achieve great renown, if you want to be part of the public consciousness, entertain people in a simple-minded way, like hitting a ball with a stick and running around in a park. People can be entertained by Derek Jeter without expending any effort.

Where Chekhov went wrong is that he failed to anticipate a world where nobody reads anymore. Furthermore, he believed that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them. His plays and stories don’t have a traditional structure where everything is tied up neatly at the end, so you not only have to put in the time to read them, you have to go into overtime to ponder the moral ambiguities. Who has time for that in their busy lives?


This Magic Moment

21 Nov 2014 /

Bravery is doing
            the same thing every day when you don’t want to.
Not the marvelous but the familiar, over and over again.
            Do that, and the magic will come.

— David Kirby, “This Magic Moment”

Proud to Be a Coal Miner’s Daughter

7 Nov 2014 /

Loretta Lynch

If she is nominated and confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first coal miner’s daughter to hold the job . . .


Blondes

24 Oct 2014 /

Raymond Chandler

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

— Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Teaching Computer Science: Applause

23 Sep 2014 /

Applause

We did an interactive exercise to write a simple program that prints numbers and the squares of the numbers — a for loop, basically. We went around the room with each student providing one element of the loop and me writing them on the whiteboard: for, open paren, int, i, equals, 1, semicolon, etc.

I thought it went very well. The timing was good and it was obvious that most of the class understood what was going on. When we got to a girl who’s usually ahead of everyone and knows all the answers, what we needed from her was “curly bracket” but what she actually said was “semicolon” and there was a collective groan from the rest of the class.

When the last student said “close curly bracket,” there was spontaneous applause, immediately, before I even wrote it on the board. It wasn’t like a concert at the high school auditorium where a piece ends and there’s a gap — “Is it over? Do we clap now?” It was like a classical concert with a high-brow audience that knows exactly when the piece ends and when to clap.


People I Thought Were Dead

19 Sep 2014 /
Close to You (Johnny Mathis album)

I got an email this afternoon notifying me that priority tickets are now available for a Johnny Mathis concert Nov. 8 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. If you’d asked me this morning if Johnny Mathis is still alive, I would have said “I don’t think so.”


Neil Young Sings “Fancy”

8 Jul 2014 /

Have you seen this? This is absolute genius . . .


What Rock and Roll Really Is

18 Jun 2014 /
Little Richard

It’s very easy for people to forget what rock and roll really is. Look man, I’m forty-seven years old, and I grew up in Wyoming, and I stole cars and drove five hundred miles to watch Little Richard, and I wanna tell you somethin’ — when I saw this nigger come out in a gold suit, fuckin’ hair flyin’, and leap up onstage and come down on his piano bangin’ and goin’ fuckin’ nuts in Salt Lake City, I went, “Hey man, I wanna be like him. This is what I want.”

David Briggs, quoted by Neil Young in Waging Heavy Peace

EppsNet Movie Reviews: We Are the Best!

8 Jun 2014 /

We Are the Best!

Contrary to the IMDB summary below, only two of the girls, Klara and Bobo, have no instruments (or talent). The third girl, Hedvig, is a painfully shy classical guitar-playing schoolmate recruited to teach them about music.

This movie is a joy! I don’t know what else to say. See it.

Rating: 5 stars

We Are the Best!

Three girls in 1980s Stockholm decide to form a punk band -- despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead.

Director: Lukas Moodysson
Cast: Mira Barkhammar Bobo, Mira Grosin Klara, Liv LeMoyne Hedvig, Johan Liljemark Kenneth

IMDb rating: 7.2 (4,792 votes)


Rickie Lee Jones at the Coach House

6 Jun 2014 /

We saw Rickie Lee Jones at the Coach House Sunday night. I’ve been an RLJ fan since . . . I think it was 1979, when this young woman I’d never heard of showed up on Saturday Night Live and sang “Chuck E’s in Love”:

It might be possible to watch that now and say, “What’s the big deal? I’ve heard women sing like that.”

Not in 1979, you didn’t. In case you’ve forgotten or blocked it out or you weren’t born yet, in 1979 we were listening to Olivia Newton-John, Debby Boone, and similar lame-ass bullshit. (Or Christopher Cross, Barry Manilow . . . the male singers were equally uninspiring.)

I couldn’t have been more electrified if she’d capped off the performance by whacking the Captain and Tennille across the face with her beret.

RLJ’s style influenced a lot of singers, including some who’ve been much more commercially successful, and she really hasn’t I think been properly recognized for that.

She didn’t have a band, just played guitar and piano and sang. She sounded great, reinventing some of her best-known songs with new tempos and phrasing. As I mentioned when we saw Neil Young’s stunning solo show in April, a lot of performers hide their shortcomings as musicians and singers by adding a band, backup singers, electronics and other accoutrements, but when you’re up there all by yourself, there’s nowhere to hide. It’s organic music.

She told some stories between songs, many about living in New Orleans after moving recently from LA. Topics included voodoo ladies, fireflies, impromptu parades and neighbors who sit out on their front porch and wave to you.

The venue was sold out. That’s good. I feel like we were part of something. There was a long standing ovation at the end of the set . . . people went on clapping for several minutes even after the house lights came up, which I don’t remember ever seeing before.

Here’s the set list, to the best of my recollection:

Weasel and the White Boys Cool

Sympathy for the Devil

Young Blood

The Last Chance Texaco

Satellites

It Must Be Love

On Saturday Afternoons in 1963

We Belong Together

Living It Up

The Weight

Company

Chuck E’s in Love


Dying at the Right Time

6 Jun 2014 /
John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney has 5,700,000 Likes on Facebook. John Lennon has 15,000,000 Likes, despite being dead for more than 30 years.

As Nietzsche used to say, “One must discontinue being feasted upon when one tasteth best; that is known by those who want to be long loved.”


People I Thought Were Dead

26 May 2014 /

That L.A. Sunshine

17 May 2014 /

Also featuring the USC Marching Band horn section . . .


Singing the Song from the Heart, Without Any Accoutrements, Without Any Production

14 May 2014 /
English: Neil Young in concert in Oslo, Norway...

The whole idea of a singer-songwriter singing the song from the heart, singing a song that means something to them and actually singing a song that’s good enough to stand up on its own without any accoutrements, without any production, without any machines supporting it, without any formulated beats, without any computer making sure that all the rhythms are justified so that everything is perfect, you take all those things away and put a great song there with a great performance, even if it’s not by the greatest vocalists in the world or the greatest guitar player or instrumentalist in the world, if that person is believing what they’re singing and it’s truly there and the song is great and the song is written from a real place, then the song’s going to resonate with anybody who wants to listen to it.


See You in Hell, Carl Douglas

5 May 2014 /

Satan

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

“It put a smile on my face that finally [Donald Sterling] would be unable to deny the racist allegations against him,” said Carl Douglas, a lawyer who represented former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor in a lawsuit against Sterling.

Carl Douglas is best known as a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team. O.J. Simpson has done some regrettable things, like murdering a couple of white people, but at least he’s never made negative remarks about Magic Johnson photos on Instagram.

See you in Hell . . .

P.S. Carl Douglas the lawyer should not be confused with Carl Douglas the “Kung Fu Fighting” singer. Him, I like.


Let it Bleed

3 Apr 2014 /
Hemophiliac (album)

Hemophiliac (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At my piano lesson tonight, I noticed what looked like a streak of blood on one of the keys. The next thing I noticed was that the tip of my right index finger was bleeding — apparently a paper cut from a sheet of music, although I didn’t feel anything at the time.

I didn’t want to ruin the piano so I stopped playing and tried to get everything cleaned up.

I asked my teacher, “If you’re playing a concert and you start bleeding, what should you do? Just keep going?”

“Yes.”

“What if in addition to being a pianist, you’re also a hemophiliac and you might die? Would that alter your advice?”

“Are you a hemophiliac?”

“Fortunately, no.”


Neil Young Acoustic Show at the Dolby Theater

2 Apr 2014 /

We were lucky enough to see Neil Young’s solo acoustic performance at the Dolby Theatre in LA last night. I say “lucky” even though we paid for the tickets because they did sell out rather quickly.

Here’s the set list, to the best of my recollection. I may have some of the harmonica instrumentation wrong. He had the harmonica rack on for the whole show; some songs he played it and some he didn’t.

First Set

From Hank to Hendrix – guitar, harmonica. A good opener for this kind of a show: From Hank to Hendrix / I walked these streets with you / Here I am with this old guitar / Doin’ what I do. / I always expected / That you should see me through / I never believed in much / But I believed in you.

On the Way Home – guitar, harmonica

Only Love Can Break Your Heart – guitar, harmonica

Love in Mind – piano

Philadelphia – piano

Mellow My Mind – guitar (banjo?), harmonica. He played the Gibson Mastertone you can see in the right foreground of the photo. He said it’s a guitar, not a banjo. It sure looks and sounds like a banjo though.

Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin) – piano

Someday – piano

Changes (Phil Ochs) – guitar

Harvest – guitar, harmonica

Old Man – guitar, harmonica.

Second Set

Goin’ Back – guitar

A Man Needs a Maid – synthesizer, piano, harmonica

Ohio – guitar. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? This hasn’t lost any punch over the last 40 years.

Southern Man – guitar

If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot) – guitar. A better interpretation than the original, which I’ve never really liked very much.

Harvest Moon – guitar, harmonica

Mr. Soul – pipe organ, harmonica. I’ve heard a lot of people play guitar and harmonica together. I may have even heard someone play piano and harmonica together. But I’ve never (until now) heard anyone play harmonica riffs while performing on a pipe organ.

Flying on the Ground Is Wrong – piano. Interesting story about this song: when he wrote it, he was living in L.A. at the Commodore Gardens on Orchid Ave. The Commodore Gardens is gone now. It went away when Orchid Ave. was shortened to make room for . . . the Dolby Theatre! (see map)

After the Gold Rush – piano. With a line change: We’ve got Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century.

Heart of Gold – guitar, harmonica.

Encore

Thrasher – guitar, harmonica.

He had seven or eight guitars available, several harmonicas, a grand piano, an upright piano, a synthesizer and a pipe organ.

He has an incredible repertoire of songs to choose from, his voice for some reason sounds better than ever, and he’s a fantastic musician, which you have to be for a solo acoustic performance. If you really can’t play or sing, there’s no place to hide.

Most of the guitars came with stories, related in a laconic, deadpan style. One used to belong to Hank Williams. “I got it from a guy in Nashville. Thanks to you, and people like you, I was a rich hippie. And I was able to buy the guitar.”

Two were given to him by Steve Stills. One — the one he’s playing in the photo — used to belong to a folk singer who was performing in Denver when a gunshot blasted a large hole in the front of the instrument. “That was long before weed was legalized. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. But no one singing folk songs in Denver has been shot since it was legalized.”


Expanding My Repertoire

22 Mar 2014 /
The only known photograph of Frédéric...

The only known photograph of Frédéric Chopin, often incorrectly described as a daguerreotype (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My piano teacher asks me if there are any pieces I want to learn . . .

“How about . . . ?” and here I name a piece by Chopin.

“This one?” she asks and starts to play it.

“Yeah.”

“It’s hard.”

“Well, it sounds quite impressive but I think if you break it down it’s just arpeggios and thirds.”

“No, it’s not just thirds,” she says and starts to play it again to show me. “And that’s with the left hand. Do you think you can play that with your left hand?”

“My left hand’s not very good.”

“I know.”

“So that one is too hard.”

“Yes.”

“OK, how about . . . ?” and here I name another piece by Chopin.

“That’s the only piece that’s harder than the first one.”

“How about this?” I ask, and play a YouTube video on my phone.

“What is that?”

“It’s from a film called The Piano.”

“Is that New Age music? It’s not classical music.”

“Is that bad?”

“IT’S TOO EASY! YOU COULD SIGHT-READ IT!”


Death Row Headlines We’d Like to See

19 Mar 2014 /

I saw this headline on MSN News this morning:

Texas Set to Execute Aspiring Rapper

Here’s an undated photo of the musical murderer:

Ray Jasper

Ray Jasper

The fact that he was an aspiring rapper seems comically irrelevant to the fact that he was convicted of slitting a man’s throat — which didn’t kill him — and then stabbing him — which did.

Some future Death Row headlines we might expect to see from MSN:

  • Texas Set to Execute Aspiring Comic with 37 Twitter Followers
  • Texas Set to Execute Amateur Banjo Player
  • Texas Set to Execute Man With Irritating Laugh

The Best Advice I Got This Week

15 Mar 2014 /

Horowitz quote

I was watching a Paul Barton YouTube video about piano practice . . . he said that when someone asked Horowitz how he’s able to play so many difficult pieces, Horowitz replied, “You just got to really want to.”

That seems like excellent advice. It’s short, just a few words . . . you can remember it without even trying to. And I think it could be applied to almost any endeavor.

Imagine someone listening to Horowitz and thinking, “Wow, that’s great! I’d give anything to be able to play like that!”

But he wouldn’t really give anything. He wants to play like Horowitz but he doesn’t really want to play like Horowitz. He doesn’t want to practice 20 hours a day and give up everything else in his life.

In any endeavor, reaching a goal often requires more than someone is willing to give . . . not more than they are able to give but more than they are willing to give.


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